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Interview with Derrick McKenzie - Jamiroquai

Interview with Derrick McKenzie – Jamiroquai

Derrick McKenzie has been playing drums for Jamiroquai for 18 years - longer than the lifetime of most of today’s pop stars - and the band is still going strong. In his most recent interview with Derrick brings us up to date with what he is working on and why he thinks Jamiroquai keep going from strength to strength.

What have you been up to lately?

This year with the Jamiroquai stuff I've mainly been doing corporate shows and Jay's been dealing with the record company business and thinking about the next album. That's why we've been quiet on that front. I've been doing another project with Paul who plays bass and Rob who plays guitar in Jamiroquai; we've done a little side project, ‘Shuffler’, that started off as a fun thing and we've developed it into a band situation where we've recorded 15 tracks or so, kind of acoustic rock, funk, soul. It's totally the opposite of the Jamiroquai stuff and we've built it up from scratch doing small gigs and really small corporate shows. We've recorded this album and we’re looking to release it as a download this year.

I've been doing my own remixing and writing with various people. At the minute I'm starting some work with a guy called Richard Earnshaw, who's a top dance producer in the UK, and another guy called Matt Earley who I've decided to work with, writing tracks which we'll release them and then see how we go.

I've been working with a producer called Steve Booker at Cape Sounds Music, based in London. I do a beat day for him where I go in and play a load of beats over four or five hours and then he uses those loops to write songs to. When he's ready he calls me in to rerecord that loop but across the whole song with the arrangement.

I've been dabbling with DJ'ing too. I'm a drummer first and foremost, but I've been doing small bars and clubs in and around Europe. That's been good fun! It's kind of attached to drums cos of the beats, but it's also outside of it.

What are you using to DJ?

Cos I'm only just beginning, I'm using a Numark Pro controller with my laptop but next year I'm going to upgrade and start using Serrato and using CDs to try and push it further. I'd also like to bring drum pads into it so I can play some percussion on top.

I've been playing soulful house, disco, funk, soul - stuff that I'm into that I hope other people like. I had a really nice experience recently doing some DJ'ing in France in Montpelier and Paris. You can see why the DJ's get right into it and their heads never come up cos they're mixing it all the time!

On your website it looks like you've been working with a lot of Australian artists?

I have in the past but not so much this year. I've worked with a singer songwriter called Karen Maralis who I met via MySpace back in the day. She sent me an acoustic track, which was her voice and a piano and I did a remix to it. I came up with a Latin version of her song, which has apparently done quite well over in Australia. She's now doing her album, which is great. Then I worked with a band called News Continuum, which was a duo of singer/songwriters who programme and write all their lyrics and melodies.

Hopefully I'll work with some more artists from there because I really enjoy it, even though it's all done over the internet.

How do you find it, working on that side on remixes? Does it transfer easily over from being a drummer for you?

For me it's actually really easy. The remixing makes me think more musically in chords; I think as if I'm in a band situation to what I would play or what I would want to hear. I'm always thinking musically!

The last Jamiroquai album was quite a different sound to the others; did you find any problems with people accepting it?

In the beginning there were people who said we'd gone all rocky and lost the funk, lost our way. When you're doing something for 18 or 20 plus years and you have seven or eight albums behind you you can actually afford to do something different. People learn to accept the album as it is because they start by hearing one song, which happens to be quite rocky and heavy. They forget that the elegance of that song, based on what we've been brought up on as musicians with funk, soul and rock as well; we just brought that more to the forefront.

There was a five year gap before this album and we spent our time listening to lots of different sounds. Jay was into Bryan Ferry, David Bowie and all that 70’s stuff and we’ve all been brought up on it so we knew that would come through eventually. It just happened to be on that album, but not all the tracks are like that. My background was disco so when it comes to the drums there's still that element in there.

What do you think the reasons are for you staying together that long?

Everybody gets on, number one. Everybody is more or less on the same page musically; that really helps. Everybody is prepared to listen; in this band you need to be able to accept criticism and take on ideas. It's not just about being a drummer and playing these parts all day long.

Everybody needs to work together as a team and I'm just one part that helps all the cogs turn in sync. It is directed and run by Jay; the whole thing is through him and we all work together as a team to make it work. It's about communication. We appreciate each other’s talents and are able to improve on what we're doing. This transfers when we play live; we appreciate each other and we're better playing our tracks live than in the studio.

How have things changed for you in the band to when you look back to when it started?

Back in the day when I joined, record companies ruled everything; they ruled what went on the radio and it's changed a lot through downloading. That's been a massive influence on the way people buy music and to what is on the radio. Where as before you would do an album, promote it, the record company would release it, you would get your advance, it would be toured for two or three years. Downloading has now changed that and also the rate at which tracks are put out.

When we would do our album it would take six months to a year to record so we'd tour it for eighteen months and then we'd take a couple of months off and start the next one; it would be a two or three year cycle for each album. Now you do the album in one to six months, promote it in a week and if you're Rihanna, you tour it for six or eight months or a year but during that year touring you're recording your next album. As soon as you finish one tour you start the next, so everything moves along a lot quicker.

People now download tracks where as before you had to buy the whole album, so it's changed a lot. XFactor has ruined the art of making an album; you'd sit down and write songs before. With the computer age now people do everything at home so the record companies don't need to spend 50 to 100 grand in a studio for six months; they just give the tracks out to different individuals, so there is a team of people to make tracks up for an artist. The artist doesn't have to do that for themselves; other people are writing for them and the artist just goes in and sings them, so it has changed so much.

Does that put pressure on a band like you to put things out faster?

I'm going to say no to that. We've built up our fan base over twenty years so we still do our albums the way that we know best; going to a studio and thrashing out ideas. We'll come up with original ideas and give tracks out to people to remix. A lot of people like to hear live music. I heard that one tour, XFactor or The Voice, didn't even use a band; just vocals over backing tracks! What has happened to the art of a band and making a spectacle of it? It's such a shame because musicians are getting a bad deal with record labels saying that we should be honoured to do gigs. The band makes a live act and should be included on whatever the artist is singing. I feel sorry for the singers doing those tours who are just performing with a track so that money is saved on hotels and flights because that's not real music.

There is a pressure in getting the tracks right so that they sell because albums are not really selling; it's touring where you make your money now. You release the album so there is something out there and then tour it to make momentum.

Do you think the next Jamiroquai album will be similar to the last one?

I think we will go back to the old skool way and what we do best and where we started. We''ll keep it live, but I'm only guessing!

What is your set up and do you think it will change for the next album?

My set up is still Yamaha Absolute Drums but I am finding I am using 22” kick, 10 or 12 up top and then 16 or 18 floor tom for my recording stuff with a load of cymbals; all Sabian HHX/AAX sizes ranging from 10” splash to 19” crash with a chopper cymbal and an Ozone cymbal too.

Being with a band for 18 years is a fantastic length of time. Do you think Jamiroquai has shaped you as a person in any way?

Yes, it has shaped me and I think it's been a great learning curve for me as a drummer and also as a person.  I am still learning things on the drums and listening to people all the time; I can then take these tips to my kit and change it in my own way to create my own thing.

Have any of your children taken up drums?

I’ve involved them in what's going on. I haven't forced my kids to play drums; if they want to they can and if they don't it's fine. My boys do dancing and acting and my daughter does her own thing working. It doesn't affect me now but when they were younger they used to watch me practise. Now they just do what they like!

What would you like to work on next?

I'm looking to advance on the DJ'ing and writing with more people. I'm not scared of approaching artists or their management directly and getting people to sing on tracks that I've written. I want to do a lot more of that; I want to get really involved in writing and producing some great music with some great singers, whether they're commercial or not. If I can get some success out of that then that’s fantastic.

The thing about playing live is that it has to be produced well, so it transfers to a live version, so I'll go into that more too.

If you could write for anyone, and play drums for them too, who would it be?

I've always wanted to write with Michelle Branch, Adele and Mint Condition to name a few. To play with I would like to continue with Jamiroquai, of course, but also the Rolling Stones… I would love to do the Larry Graham gig... Prince… to be honest I will do any gig. I just love to play the drums as it makes me relax and forget about general day to day life.

For more information on Derrick and about Shuffler you can check out The band is also on Twitter, Facebook and Soundcloud, where you can hear the album.

Interview by Gemma Hill

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